Mountain View Voice

News - April 12, 2013

City zeroes in on bike, pedestrian safety

Data, deaths spark council to make it a top goal

by Daniel DeBolt

The city is continuing to ramp up efforts to make Mountain View more pedestrian friendly after residents called for safer streets in a series of Voice articles published last year.

Last week the City Council made pedestrian and bicycle mobility improvements a top goal for fiscal year 2013-2014.

Meanwhile, police have stepped up enforcement — reporting fewer collisions — while Mountain View's public works department has begun planning projects to increase street safety.

Projects the council may give the green light to soon include the narrowing of Castro Street in front of Graham Middle school to slow traffic and provide buffered bike lanes after several students were hit by cars there last year. Public works director Mike Fuller said studies are being proposed for bike and pedestrian improvements to highly trafficked California Street and Escuela Street, a densely populated area where residents say fixes should be a top priority.

A study is also proposed for a buffered bike lane (cycle track) up Shoreline Boulevard to encourage biking from downtown to Google headquarters, while several other smaller projects are being considered city-wide.

Fewer collisions

Despite a pair of pedestrian deaths in the last month, police Lt. Tony Lopez says police have seen a significant drop in car collisions of all types. Last year police began using a plainclothes decoy to catch drivers who don't give pedestrians the right of way in crosswalks and added two more officers to its traffic enforcement team.

In March, police looked at the numbers and found they had given 3,068 tickets since March of 2012, after having issued only 1,138 during the same period the year before. Police found 26 total collisions — both car versus car and car versus a bicyclist or pedestrian — in March from the previous 12 months, down from 55 over the same period the year before.

Activists say that the city shouldn't stop with police enforcement, and City Council members seem to be getting the message. Council member Jac Siegel summed up the council's direction to city staff about its top goals last week, noting, "our goals (give) staff sensitivity as to what we care about."

"We said, wherever possible, we want to put in as safe a bike path as possible and as many pedestrian paths as possible," Siegel said.

The city can't "go back in time" and design itself around bikes, like Davis did when it was built as a university town, Siegel said, but "going forward we want to make sure it is good as possible."

Map reveals danger spots

Using police data, Voice staff mapped incidents where vehicle drivers collided with bicyclists or pedestrians, indicating where the city needs to target police enforcement and road improvements, advocates say.

The clarity provided by the map drew expressions of shock from Wendee Crofoot of Great Streets Rengstorff Park, which is pushing for bike and pedestrian friendly streets in the highly-trafficked, lower-income Rengstorff Park area, where collisions cluster on the map on and around California Street. "This map shows the conflicts faced by pedestrians and bicyclists in a city where the roads are designed to transport cars as quickly as possible," she said.

"We have seen City Council and staff taking steps to redesign Mountain View infrastructure and hope that they will use data like this to create a city that is designed to move people safely to their destinations," Crofoot said.

A bicyclist or pedestrian was hit every five days, on average, between September of 2007 and September 2012, according to data police are now tracking. Seven people died in those accidents.

Of 357 collisions with cars, 244 involved bicyclists and 113 involved pedestrians. All resulted in injuries or death. The number of pedestrian- and bike-related collisions every year remained at roughly the same level between 2008 and 2011 — between 43 and 46 collisions a year.

The map and data above doesn't include the recent death of Ruifan Ma, struck and killed March 5 while crossing Phyllis Avenue, nor the death of Sarra Golukhov on April 6, after being hit by a minivan April 3 while walking on a Central Expressway sidewalk.

While fewer collisions over the last 12 months is good news, "the sad part is we've had two fatalities in the last month," Lopez said. "How can you prevent someone from driving on the sidewalk?" he said, referring to Golukhov's death. "I don't know of anything we could do to stop that."

Most dangerous intersections

According to the map the most dangerous intersection in all of Mountain View is Sylvan Avenue and El Camino Real. Police recorded 12 collisions with bikes and pedestrians there over the five year period, about double the amount typical of the city's other dangerous intersections, which also tend to be on El Camino Real.

"The number of accidents there is horrible," said Mountain View cyclist and blogger Janet LaFleur. "It's near the freeway. People take a while to adjust to changes of conditions when people are driving 70 miles per hour and then it changes to 35. Whenever I ride by a freeway, people are driving like they are still on it."

"I know that our guys have spent a lot of time there in the past looking for speeding or red light violations, but it wasn't unusual," Lopez said of the Sylvan Avenue intersection. He noted that Grant Road's El Camino Real intersection is much worse, a place "we can go anytime at rush hour and catch people running red lights or speeding. It is constantly on our radar to focus on that intersection."

In contrast, Lopez mentioned that police have been ticketing large numbers of drivers who don't stop for the police decoy at crosswalks on Shoreline Boulevard at Mercy and Dana streets. After residents of the area complained about problems crossing the six-lane street near downtown, "we went out there ourselves and said, 'Oh my goodness, they are correct.' We need to work on this quite a bit," Lopez said.

Lopez mused that it might be a matter of drivers not expecting them to be there. Police are working with the public works department to come up with a solution — an example of how community is working together, Lopez said.

"It is one of those scenarios where the community points it out, we go out and look at the concern and verify it, and now public works is trying to come up with a physical solution to make it safer," Lopez said.

"We are trying to brainstorm whether it's lights in the ground or additional signing or lights on poles," for highlighting the Shoreline Boulevard crosswalks, Lopez said. "Something is going to be getting done there, we are just kind of in an evaluation phase of what that will be. We wish we could say, 'That's a great idea, let's do it next week,' but that's not how it works."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by RealData, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Did that list of dangerous intersections take into account the amount of traffic? El Camino has accidents because there are lots of cars on El Camino - you need to look at the rate, not the plain number.

This idea of narrowing Castro by Graham is ludicrous. 95 percent of the time this area is deserted and there is no traffic risk to anybody. The only times there is risk are at start and end of the school day, and then only for 30-45 minutes.

Rather than mess with traffic 100% of the time - find improvements that improve safety without affecting traffic the other 22 hours of the day.

A pedestrian crossing light (like the one between Wal Mart and Target on Showers), or even a human crossing guard at start/end of school would be far better for everyone than reducing lanes.


Posted by Janet L, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 14, 2013 at 11:24 am

RealData, you're looking at the danger on El Camino backwards. What determines the rate of collisions in this data is not the number of cars, it's the number of people on bikes and on foot. There are lots of cars on Hwy 101 but virtually zero car/bike/ped collisions.

The fact that El Camino has so many bike/ped collisions when it's not an area people seek out for walking or riding shows that the way it's designed to speed cars through makes it inhospitable to anyone who has the audacity to use it without a car. As for South Castro Street, it may seem empty to you except for school hours, but people who walk or ride bikes there beg to differ.

Look at the map again, the streets that allow car speeds of 35 mph and greater are the ones that are dangerous for them. When cars go fast the drivers don't see people on foot or bikes well and don't have much time to react and stop in time.

If you've never walked in a crosswalk with a green light and had a car whip around a corner and nearly take you out, you probably don't cross El Camino, Shoreline, San Antonio or Rengstorff on foot or bike much.


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